Committee on Finance. - Vote 42—Posts and Telegraphs (Resumed).

Tuesday, 23 May 1967

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 228 No. 11

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[1371] Debate resumed on the following motion:

That a sum not exceeding £21,394,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1968, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and of certain other Services administered by that Office and for payment of a Grant-in-Aid.—(Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.)

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Lalor): Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  When I reported progress last Thursday, I had been speaking about the rate of interest in relation to Post Office savings and the Trustee Savings Bank Account and I referred to the criticism of what was described by a number of Deputies as “the low rate of interest”. That rate was increased from 2½ per cent to 3½ per cent from 1st January last. Deputy Fitzpatrick had drawn attention to the fact that there had been more withdrawals than deposits during 1966 and I pointed out that the rate had then been 2½ per cent and that it had since been increased. From inquiries I made over the week-end and while it is too early to draw any definite conclusion, I am able to say that over the four complete months following the increase in the rate of interest from January 1st, the net deposits in both the Post Office Savings Bank and the Trustee Savings Bank show a significant improvement as compared with last year.

Reference was made by Deputy Tully to the annual problem of the format of the Telephone Directory. This is a problem which is, and has been engaging our attention over a number of years. With each issue of the directory, the question of the size of print and whether it is possible or right to continue to endeavour to have all numbers contained in one directory, arises. In view of the progress made with telephone installations over the past 12 months and the target we have [1372] this year, there is no doubt that this problem is yearly becoming more difficult. Consideration is being given to this question of whether we have a Dublin city directory plus a country directory or whether we endeavour to continue with the existing arrangement. There is no point in my suggesting that we may come down heavily on one side or the other because circumstances will probably force us into having two separate directories. Against that there is the over-all problem of costs. As long as we can maintain it at one, we should endeavour to cling to this.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The size of the print is more important than the size of the directory.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  Possibly. While the size of the print may be criticised, I do not think anybody makes a mistake with a number as a result of the size of the numbers as set out in the book.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  If the Parliamentary Secretary ever tried to make a call from a kiosk at night he would know how hard it is to find the number.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  Especially if it is a three, a five or an eight. It is very hard to tell which it is.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  I do not think any mistake is made with regard to the numbers. I know the print is small.

Deputy Tully also referred to the manner in which we have phased the opening of the Sheriff Street Sorting Office. The position is that we are most anxious to have our staff move in there as quickly as possible but so far it has been possible to accommodate only the administrative side. I recently inspected this office and I saw that this is a complex matter. There were a number of items which had to be attended to but we hope to have the sorting office going ahead there in the next few months. As most Deputies will be aware, it is very difficult to keep to a deadline in this regard. Certainly we hope that the whole sorting office will be functional for the Christmas traffic. In actual fact, it is quite possible that the phased moving in there may prove to be an advantage in [1373] so far as the various staffs will be able to adjust themselves to it in that phased way.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Are the staff quite happy with the arrangements made already?

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  The staff at all stages have been kept in contact with the arrangements. They are fully informed as to the developments. It is fully agreed that there is no point in endeavouring to move any staff in until the facilities are fully laid on for them.

Both Deputies Molloy and Tully suggested that the Post Office should engage in the manufacture of telephone equipment. I am sure both Deputies will be fully aware that telephone equipment carries literally thousands of individual pieces, most of which require to be mass-produced for efficient and economic manufacture. I honestly believe that a telephone industry here could not hope to survive on our requirements alone. It would need to rely mainly on exports. With the general overall change in the day-to-day development in this regard, if we endeavoured to get into that field at present, we would probably find ourselves in great difficulty. It is quite possible we would be very seriously criticised for not having studied the implications of this matter before we embarked on such a venture.

Deputy Tully suggested that we could import the personnel who would have the full qualifications to help us in this regard. I have had an opportunity of looking over stores in connection with telephones and I have seen the thousands of different parts involved. I think it is certainly too big a venture for this Department to involve itself in.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  How did the radio industry survive in this country? They make thousands of parts. There are half a dozen of them manufacturing and they still survive.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  We would be up against the problem, even with the demand for telephones growing here, that this still would not constitute a sufficient demand to enable us to survive.

[1374]Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  We should be able to survive with the world shortage and the present demand.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  The matter has been examined and I certainly agree that we could not possibly consider taking over this particular work in the Department.

Both Deputy Mullen and Deputy Tully referred to the purchase of foreign supplies. In fact Deputy Mullen suggested that we were giving preference to foreign suppliers. This suggestion of giving preference to foreign suppliers is unfounded.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  It is not.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  It is unfounded. On the contrary, Irish manufacturers have the benefit in competing for Government contracts either of protection in the form of import duty or in other cases a generous measure of preference.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  You shot down Gallens of Balbriggan. You gave it to them last year. You took it from them the year before.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  The point about this is that we certainly could not be accused of having shot down an Irish firm if the price in any way was favourable against the price of a foreigner.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  It was.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  I do not know of the particular case to which the Deputy refers. Certainly we could have that investigated and the result communicated to the Deputy. There is certainly no question of giving preference to a foreign firm in relation to any purchase made by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. The reverse in fact is over-all Governmental policy.

Deputy Tully made reference to telephone account cards. Straight off, I must state that no firm at present is willing to take on the printing of these cards to specified requirements. If the Deputy knows of any Irish printing firm interested in this work, he should advise them to get in touch with the Department or with the machine firm itself, IBM.

Deputy Molloy referred to the rental [1375] charge on the Telex services as it affects firms in Galway and the West generally. The point is that in actual fact the cost for any caller in any part of the country for the Telex service is the same. The position is that if a user from Galway calls a firm in Dublin, the charge is exactly the same as if two Dublin firms were calling each other. The only difference is the annual rental charge. The basic rental of £160 per annum covers the cost of the Telex equipment and the line charge within ten miles radius of the Telex exchange in Dublin. Then there is an additional 30/- per mile charge from 10 to 55 miles and £1 a mile for any distance over 55 miles. This appears quite a sizeable rent but, as against that, once the rental is paid, the firm has an advantage of having cross-country rate at exactly the same rate as is enjoyed by the Dublin subscribers.

Since the Telex system was introduced here in 1955, there has been no increase in the rentals or, in fact, in the call charges. In order to encourage provincial subscribers, the excess mileage charges were reduced as from 1st October, 1964, when the service was converted to automatic working. This revision benefited all subscribers who were liable for the excess mileage charges. For example, in Galway rents were reduced by approximately £53 per annum, and in Cork the reductions effected amounted to £63 per annum. There certainly would be an appreciable drop in revenue if the excess mileage charges were to be abolished. I would point out that costing of the Telex service is at present being undertaken and it is proposed to reconsider this whole question when the costing has been completed.

In relation to pirate broadcasting, I was pleased to hear Deputy M. E. Dockrell say that he welcomed the proposed legislation in this regard. He indicated on behalf of his Party that they would support this measure. As the House is aware, it is in accordance with the Government's decision of March, 1965, to have unified action in this matter and I expect that legislation to outlaw the pirate radio will be before the House shortly.

[1376] Some Deputies referred to various individual local problems. I do not know whether these are subjects with which I should deal here, but, in an effort to try to be as comprehensive as I possibly can in dealing with the points raised during this debate, I should like to refer to Deputy T. J. Fitzpatrick's (Cavan) point in connection with the slowness in the provision of the Post Office in Cavan. This is a matter which he has raised already and I should like to inform him that Cavan will be an important centre in the postal and telephone network. In relation to the telephone network, it will have to cater for automatic and, for some time at least, manual working.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Cavan Fire Brigade were so good two years ago that you had one for nothing.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  The Deputy is over-playing that. It is necessary in relation to Cavan to plan to the very best advantage for these general purposes, so that, at the same time, maximum space be left for future development. A final sketch plan of the scheme was approved some time ago and at present the detailed working drawings are in hand. On completion of these, the preparation of the bills of quantities will be proceeded with. I do not want at this stage to forecast when we will be able to get this work under way but I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that it must take some time. I certainly will go so far as to say that it should be under way in a period of from 12 to 18 months.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  You did not cut the weeds yet.

Mr. Lalor: Information on Patrick J. Lalor  Zoom on Patrick J. Lalor  It would be wrong for me to say that it can be done sooner. I have asked the Office of Public Works to give a measure of priority to this work and they will deal also with the telephone exchange block in a separate contract.

Deputy Treacy had a lot to say about the Rowland Hill Fund. I venture to say that he may not have been fully informed on this. Lest the Deputy be under any misunderstanding, I should explain that the Rowland [1377] Hill Fund operating in the Post Office is of inestimable value. I have nothing to say in this regard except to compliment all concerned in operating the fund and to pay tribute to those among the staff who subscribe. I should certainly like to pay tribute also to the trustees outside the Department who give their time freely in looking after the people who benefit under the fund.

I have endeavoured, Sir, to deal in much detail with the matters which have been raised here on the postal side, and I should like to express my pleasure at hearing the many complimentary remarks passed by almost every Deputy on the operation of the Post Office in general, and to take this opportunity on behalf of my Department of expressing our gratitude for those words of encouragement to the Department as a whole which, in general, praised the progress being made. It would be wrong if I were to conclude without acknowledging those compliments on behalf of the staff of the Department.

Mr. Lindsay: Information on Patrick James Lindsay  Zoom on Patrick James Lindsay  I should like to make a brief intervention in this debate. I do not want to take any advantage of the Parliamentary Secretary who has, to all intents and purposes, concluded the debate in relation to the Post Office. First of all, I should like to say that to nobody has it given greater pleasure than to me that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs has been amalgamated with the Department of Transport and Power and that the Minister for Transport and Power, with a Parliamentary Secretary, is now running this vast network which might well be entitled Communications, communications of all kinds.

I should like to say one or two things in relation to the Post Office. I am sorry I did not speak before the Parliamentary Secretary. I was not in the House when he probably dealt with a similar complaint, if it was made, that is, the delay at certain times in getting the exchange to answer in relation to trunk calls. I remember asking a Parliamentary Question on one occasion, when Deputy Hilliard [1378] was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and he gave me the reply that the average delay was 11 seconds.

I should like both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to try it some time, without mentioning any kind of priorities, and they would realise there are far more than 11 seconds involved, at certain times. That may well be due to change over of staff at some particular hour, when there are not as many as at another time. I do not know what is the reason but it certainly gives rise to a considerable feeling of irritation in subscribers. Otherwise, I have nothing but the highest praise for the operators on the long-distance calls with whom one comes in contact from time to time. They are all extremely helpful and knowledgeable and, once one gets them, there certainly can be no fault to be found with the service they give.

The second point I want to make— and I am sure it has been made already —is this business of demanding so many years' rental prior to the supply of a telephone, getting a substantial sum of money, with then a considerable delay before the telephone is supplied. I know a case where over two years ago a lady in a very remote part of the country—where a telephone would be a considerable help to her, now that she lives alone, her family having gone to Dublin and other parts of the country—paid a sum of over £80 and is still waiting for her telephone. This is not right. I do not think there is any other sort of commercial enterprise which would ask for money so long in advance of supplying the article for which the money is paid. However, it is the brighter side we have witnessed and heard about in the provision of telephones. That complaint may well be obviated in a very short period, if telephones are to be supplied. But it is a very annoying thing to people who have paid a sum of money immediately on demand—substantial to them —to have to wait for a period of one, two, or over two years, for a telephone.

Something which is missed when we are dealing with the Post Office—and not so much missed as taken for granted—are the two great qualities in the postal service, from sorting to [1379] delivery: honesty and care in handling the wares submitted to them. The incidence of dishonesty in the Post Office, having regard to its vast ramifications, to the opportunity and, very often, the temptation offered, is very small indeed. It is a very rare type of case which goes into the courts in relation to the opening of postal packets. For that, those people who operate at all levels in the Post Office are to be complimented. The same can be said of the manner in which they handle the property entrusted to them, from sorting to delivery. That is all I have to say about that portion of the Department now known as Posts and Telegraphs.

Telefís Éireann is quite another matter and, lest there be any confusion on the part of anybody as to the Fine Gael attitude towards Telefís Éireann, I should like to restate it simply: we have no quarrel whatsoever with the staff, individually or collectively, in Montrose. Our objection is to what we regard as unwarranted interference with members of the staff by members of the Government from time to time, an interference which the Minister may exercise, pursuant to statute, by giving notice in writing. This, it has plainly been admitted on at least three occasions, has not been done. The telephone has simply been taken up, and a Minister not responsible at all for the activities of Telefís Éireann has been able to do it, has been able to ring up and get a programme cancelled or curtailed. That, of course, is going beyond the powers provided in the statute setting up the Authority.

I am sure the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs has read the article in today's Irish Times dealing with this matter. I shall not bore either the Minister or the House by quoting from it but certainly it is an article which is thought-provoking and certainly demands an answer from the Minister. It is a timely article, written before the Minister has replied in this regard, and dealing with the constitution of the Authority. Indeed, I do not think it can be gainsaid, in spite of the Minister's protestations in another place recently about people appointed to State bodies, [1380] that the majority of the members of the Radio Telefís Éireann Authority are people who will readily listen to advice, or anything else you like to call it, from Government Ministers. They are hand-picked, and indeed in the vast majority of the cases picked not for any contribution they might be able to give to television, radio diffusion or anything of that kind, but for the service they have given to the Government Party in the past and are prepared to give as members of the Authority, by their silence, in the future, and by failing to stand up to individual members of the Government when they seem to interfere in a manner unwarranted by the provisions of the statute.

The people in Montrose, in so far as I have personal experience of them, in so far as I hear from others and in so far as I can gather from the programmes they present, are doing a wonderful job of work, and are not the kind of people who should be subjected to this kind of interference. This is a new station, a new venture, comparatively, for us and one that should be allowed to grow naturally, free of inhibiting influences. Admittedly, of course, the Government could, through the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, step in at certain times, but as I think the former Minister said on one occasion, it was only in the case of an emergency that that power would be exercised by the Minister.

The Taoiseach made a statement, as is referred to in this article, that it was never intended that television would be completely independent of the Government. That statement, of course, has no authoritative basis in the legislative provisions we have at the moment relating to this Authority. It would be a very good thing for the Authority if they were able to go ahead in the knowledge they would not be interfered with in this manner. As I have said, they are doing an excellent job on nearly all of the fronts in which they have interested themselves. When one looks at the speed and accuracy with which a much bigger and much older organisation, the BBC, is able to deal with an emergency at the moment, to deal with a particularly [1381] interesting current event, and then looks at a programme like “Seven Days” here in which the people directly responsible for its production are able to marshal their facts and get the interested people together, one realises that our service is moving very rapidly into the sphere of creditable comparison with the BBC. That is the only guide we have to help us in making these comparisons.

There are the other programmes: the political programmes, the nature study programmes, all of which are done very well. The news for the most part is done extremely impartially but it cannot be denied that the flavour of the news from time to time is very much pro-Government and Government activity. That is a bad thing and not alone politically. It is a bad thing socially for our people that they should, through any interference by the Government or by members of the Government, be led into a situation in which they would be irritated or goaded into looking at such an excellent institution as Telefís Éireann with a cynical eye. That is the kind of thing that I would fear for the future of this station which is, at the moment, excellently manned and run excellently and nothing should be done to give rise to it.

I said at the outset that I would make a brief intervention. Those are the points in which I have a particular and immediate interest and I feel that they are points that might merit some consideration. Above all, I would ask the Minister, when he is replying, to deal with the points made in this article which, I am sure, he has read in today's Irish Times and to give an assurance once and for all to the people of this country that Telefís Éireann is an independent authority and that the Authority are working simply according to the mandates given to them under the particular Act under which they operate and that even the Taoiseach's statement that it was never intended that they be independent is not exactly in accordance with the facts. I will conclude by wishing the staff of Telefís Éireann the very best of luck and hope that they will enjoy the full [1382] confidence of the Irish people for the future.

May I go back to the Post Office again to compliment them from the very top echelon down to the people who deliver the mails on the very high incidence of honesty and care in these transactions?

Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Childers): Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  First of all, I want to thank everybody in the House who praised the general efficiency of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Even though they made individual criticisms, it was quite evident that the staff of the post offices can feel that they have the general support of all Parties in the House.

In regard to Radio Telefís Éireann. Deputy M. E. Dockrell led for the Opposition and in what he said there was no suggestion of excessive interference by the Government. He made no suggestion of there being a need for any kind of inquiry into the conduct of Telefís Éireann. Indeed, when one reads the speeches of all the Deputies on the Opposition side, they had so much to say in praise of the general programme of Telefís Éireann that one can only conclude that they must admit by implication that there has not been any noticeable interference by the Government of a kind which would inevitably be reflected in the programme. There were no suggestions by members of the Opposition of the failure of Telefís Éireann to express particular views on social or economic problems. There was no sustained suggestion on either side of the House that there was a lack of balance in political reporting. There was no suggestion whatever in speeches in general that Telefís Éireann failed to have constructive discussions on matters of interest. There was nothing of that kind.

When one reads the speeches, as I have done, of all those Deputies, one can only come to the conclusion that the few Deputies who made absurd suggestions that the Board, allegedly largely Fianna Fáil, was under my thumb or under the thumb of other Ministers, and was servile to the Government, were ludicrously out of touch with realities. Their statements are revealed to be ludicrous by the [1383] general character of the speeches made by the Opposition. The actual fact is that as a State company, Radio Telefís Éireann is one of the freest in the world. I do not suppose there are even 20 countries where a service is so free of interference of one kind or another. I might add that the veto clause which exists and which has not been used is to be found in the Acts of other countries setting up a State broadcasting authority. In the case of the BBC, which, heaven knows, has enough controversial programme material, there is a clause in the constitution making it quite clear that any Minister may require the broadcasting authority to broadcast an announcement, in illustration of a broadcasting organisation's obligation to deliver certain types of information.

I thought I had better speak in some detail about this in order that people may understand the complex issue of broadcasting in television. I have had very considerable experience of broadcasting already. It was I who initiated legislative freedom for Radio Éireann, or rather I set it on the path to being free of immediate Civil Service control. I am as jealous as anybody else of the freedom of Radio Telefís Éireann, that they should be able to act freely and to make quite sure that all points of view in regard to the community's problems are expressed. In a modern democracy, conditions for discussing the character of a broadcasting service are very much the same but, of course, there are local variations.

May I say to the writer of the article in the Irish Times that it was an interesting, challenging, controversial statement but one cannot lay down rigid rules for the character of a radio or TV service in the sense that the board could stick to a detailed settled policy of what their intentions and ideas were in regard to every single aspect of the programme. There are financial limitations on the Board which provide one very final discipline on their actions and their policy. I think it is true to say of all television authorities that the developing and changing programme spells the character of the policy, not a set of rules published by [1384] the board, and the extent to which controversial matters are discussed, the extent to which the programmes cover different aspects of national life as they change from year to year indicate what is in the mind of the authority. Quite naturally as the Government appoint the board and must have confidence in the board, the Government naturally have an interest in this general character of programme as it emerges through the years.

May I point out to the Members of the House who talk about this, that television is entertainment? There is only one programme and a great many different kinds of viewers with different points of view. The television service is not like a newspaper and it cannot give the sustained coverage to events that a full-scale newspaper service can give by its very nature. I suppose it is true to say that the board of Telefís Éireann, knowing the mood and the ideas of the members of the Government and of the House in general, would feel that the programme must be designed on a generally commercial basis, that there must be adequate numbers of viewers in order that the advertising can be secured, that they must entertain people, that the kind of programmes that will be acceptable would be of a light kind, that people like to relax and to be amused in the evenings with programmes of various sorts. Quite obviously, the House and the Government will wish that the Board will provide stimulating discussions and features relating to social and economic matters and particularly in relation to our cultural heritage and to stimulate interest in the modern development of a distinctive Irish civilisation.

As I have said, I know the Radio Telefís Éireann Authority have these ideals. I met them when I was appointed Minister. I should add to this general statement the desirability of having political discussions and religious talks of every kind. This is the broad spectrum of policy shared by the Board and myself. I think it is true to say that we would all wish RTE to push the higher level of programmes somewhat in advance of demand, so that we can be certain [1385] that Radio Telefís Éireann are helping to develop the national consciousness and helping to develop—how shall I describe it? —an Irish-Ireland consciousness which is at the same time thoroughly international in attitude and understanding the modern world. These are the ordinary generalisations with which any person with national feeling would agree in so far as television is concerned.

May I point out in relation to the writer in the Irish Times that there will always be discussions about what exactly is the right kind of programme. Unless there is controversy about what RTE produce, the service will die. Inevitably there will be people who will object to this programme or that programme, and say we should have more of some and less of others. There is sufficient controversy circulating about RTE, which they receive in the form of letters and telephone calls, so we can be certain that they are interesting the public. The day that controversy ceases so far as broadcasting is concerned, it will be a very dead service.

For that reason it is quite possible to have controversy arising quite suddenly on matters of alleged interference by the Government, on matters such as the request by the Taoiseach to RTE not to send a team to Vietnam. A great deal of criticism is based on the immediate view of a specific programme. It is very hard to expect people to judge a television service over a prolonged period, because most people have an immediate reaction to a programme. As a result, there is always excitement and always controversy surrounding a broadcasting service. That can be found in the BBC or in any other broadcasting organisation in any other democracy. It is quite inevitable.

Some Deputies referred to the statement by the former Taoiseach about RTE having to take account of Government policy. I have already spoken of the BBC regulations. Government decisions based on existing legislation, Government policy on new Bills passed in the House, and comments by Ministers of some importance in relation to economic problems and economic issues, should be properly broadcast by [1386] RTE and full attention should be paid to all announcements which come from the Government on important matters. When the Government decide on a specific policy it is usual, in a democratic country, for that policy to be expressed, and there should not be an immediate sabotage of that statement by someone deliberately produced to confuse the minds of the listeners or viewers in relation to important statements on policy. This does not mean that there cannot be discussions on what constitutes policies on all the social and economic problems in the country, conducted in a proper manner. That will be the case in any democratic country. RTE cannot give all the news. They must give expression to Government policy on an important matter, and Government decisions in a proper manner. This particularly applies to any Government statement made at a time of crisis or emergency. I do not think anyone could have any objection to this policy.

There have been references to the appearances of Ministers on television. Ministers appear on television services all over the world. The television news service content depends to a great extent on what is considered to be news, and what Ministers say is considered to be news. News of speeches in the Dáil is given in a reasonably balanced way. RTE cannot guarantee balances over a 24-hour period, but taking one day with another, there was very little criticism from either side of the House about the balance of the news so that the people can appreciate Deputies' views and the views of the Parties.

If anyone thinks that the appearance of a Minister on the television service here or in Sweden or in Denmark is evidence of prejudice on the part of the Authority the answer is that in every democracy there are loads and loads of unsolved moral, social and economic problems which are debated continuously. When unsolved problems are debated over television, or in the newspapers, or over the radio service, the Government of the day inevitably can only take what I might describe as a defensive point of view. If the Government are involved in a [1387] controversy, directly or indirectly, they can only indicate that they have done so and so, or will do so and so, or have not enough money to spend more on what is being done. In countries where there are unsolved problems the idea that there can be a heavy balance of interest in favour of the Government of the day is ludicrous. It is ludicrous in the case of RTE and, indeed, it has not been suggested in the House that there is an imbalance. We have unsolved problems and every one of them has been debated over RTE in one way or another.

As I say, the Government have a programme which they believe to be right for the economy. They continue that programme, amend and change it. Of course, no Government's programme ever satisfies everyone. Therein lies the opportunity for a continuous— how shall I put it? —sniping at the Government, and criticism of the Government in all those discussions which take place. A great deal of agitation takes place over a broadcasting service in times of stress. Everyone remembers the controversy that took place over some BBC reports when the Conservatives were going out of power. Equally, now that the English people have been in some financial difficulties, one can see again the controversy that inevitably takes place when the sayings and actions and politics of the present British Government are discussed over the BBC. People supporting different Parties always worry as to whether there is sufficient balance or a sufficient interest being given to one Party or another.

In all of this, it should be stated in relation to all sorts of rumours that emerge, that RTE itself is an entertainment organisation with a staff of very able people, many of them full of excitement and interest, anxious to produce this and that programme, to innovate here and there; and quite naturally every single producer in RTE has his own particular view as to what constitutes the right kind of programme and the right kind of approach to these controversial matters.

[1388] Indeed, I have heard criticism of a varied kind of RTE which can be reflected in speeches of Members of the House. Some say there is too much violence, others that the Wild West story has now become a traditional form of entertainment—that the good man always wins. I have heard suggestions that RTE produces programmes that are offensive to people of conservative taste and I have heard equally from the younger generation that the programmes are not sufficiently controversial. A balance has to be struck between the two.

From listening to Deputies, I think Radio Telefís Éireann has been fairly successful in holding a balance between the old and the new, between the traditional and the modern, between the various Parties; and I repeat that the interference in the programmes of RTE has been absolutely negligible, and I hope will continue to be so. I hope everybody understands the point made by a previous Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in regard to the veto clause. There is no reason why the veto clause should be used. In the two cases that have been quoted, the Authority agreed with the suggestion of the Minister.

I do not know whether I need to deal in detail with the various comments made by Members on the programmes. As I have said, the Board of RTE know my ideas which are of a general character requesting RTE to advance the cause, as far as possible, of a fine Irish civilisation; and I do not intend to interfere in detail. I occasionally make suggestions on things that might be considered as new programmes. These suggestions are made in a nonpolitical way. I have the right to do that.

Whether I need to comment on everything that has been said is very doubtful but I will make one or two comments because I think Deputies ought to have the answers to some of the questions they asked. It is a fact that the farming programme has been dropped, largely for the summer months. This is the kind of programme on which I have very strong views as being in general the type of programme which RTE must indeed include and [1389] I would intervene very specifically if the programme did not continue, even if I might be accused of interfering with RTE. This is a generally desirable programme which has been dropped for the summer. The same thing applies to the “Home Truths” Programme.

Deputy Dunne referred to the desirability of having more programmes on the EEC. There has been quite a discussion on the EEC and as the situation develops one way or another RTE will play the same part they have played in relation to other matters concerning our economic development. Members of the House naturally ask for more home produced programmes. I do not think I would be telling any secret if I mentioned the fact that the cost of a canned programme can be as little as one-tenth of the cost of a home-produced drama for the same time. We shall have to develop the financial resources of RTE before we can go very much beyond the present level of the home-produced programmes, which, I think, are 53 per cent of the total.

Deputy Esmonde referred to the necessity for dealing with economic problems. If he looks at Telefís Éireann and listens to Radio Éireann, he will find that in a week's programmes most of these problems, such as our relationship to GATT and the Kennedy Round of tariffs, are being covered in one way or another.

Deputy Dockrell referred to the orchestra. As this is a very important element in our cultural programmes, I should like to tell him that the Authority have entered into agreements with a number of eminent conductors to conduct the orchestra during the months that follow the time when Tibor Paul's contract ceases in July. It is the policy generally to rely on guest conductors rather than to employ permanent conductors. This is quite common to a number of orchestras. I join with Deputy Dockrell in expressing the hope that the very high standard of the orchestra will be maintained.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Is it general policy throughout the world to confine music [1390] of the type the Minister speaks of to sound rather than to television?

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I do not see many programmes but I think it is true that the BBC do not have many live television programmes of orchestras. We do not, either.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  I do not see why we should not but that is not for the Minister or me to say.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  I ask for more. There are very few on television.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Little or none. Even from his limited viewing, the Minister will realise there is very little decent music on television. I am not saying this about sound radio.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Again, it is a question of having to consider the number of people listening and viewing in relation to the total programmes. I am always encouraging RTE to go a little in advance if they can in order that more and more people will take an interest in everything—our culture, our economic and social problems. I think the Authority are doing their best in that respect and I am sure the Board will take note of what the Deputy has said.

One Deputy suggested that the advertising revenue of RTE was going down. What was said was that it is less buoyant, which means it is not rising so rapidly. I do not want to be taken as indicating that there is any question of reduced RTE advertising revenue. Far from it.

Deputy Tully referred to interference by Telefís Éireann with transmissions from UTV in certain areas. This was fully considered a few years ago and the position was explained in reply to a number of questions. A lengthy statement was issued to the Press by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1962. Briefly, the position is that RTE operates on frequencies which are shared by international agreement with other transmissions. Some mutual interference is therefore necessary outside the service area of the transmitter. RTE overlaps UTV. The signal from Mount Leinster interferes with the [1391] weak UTV signal outside the UTV service area. Special technical measures have been taken to reduce mutual interference between UTV and Mount Leinster to a minimum and I do not think anything further can be done in this direction. The main consideration about this whole business is that Telefís Éireann stations are operating in accordance with the Stockholm Agreement and that our first obligation is to ensure that viewers get satisfactory reception of the home programmes and that Telefís Éireann transmitters must not cause interference within the service area of the transmitters of other administrations.

I want to speak about licence fees. I have already said that licence fees will not be changed during the current financial year. Although I know the licence fee is a definite expense for families of modest income, I think a television programme is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment in the world. The cost, based on a £5 licence, is roughly a halfpenny an hour. I do not know whether there is anything else quite so inexpensive in the form of a programme of entertainment of that kind. Although people do not feel that when they have to pay the full £5 and when they have modest incomes, I would like to express that fact that it works out at roughly a halfpenny an hour.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  On how many hours' listening?

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  On 2,297, excluding continuity and advertisements.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  And if they were naughty enough to listen to the BBC, it would cost them less?

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  One could argue that, yes. I should like also to say, in connection with observations made that the vans that move around the country in order to deal with those not paying their radio or television licences, that there are now technical methods of detecting the existence of television and radio sets in respect of which the licences are not paid.

Mr. Kyne: Information on Thomas Anthony Kyne  Zoom on Thomas Anthony Kyne  Rubbish.

[1392]Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I can tell the Deputy that very definitely.

Mr. Kyne: Information on Thomas Anthony Kyne  Zoom on Thomas Anthony Kyne  The Minister can take it from me that somebody is pulling his leg.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  People will not thank the Deputy when this new medium of communication comes around. It is a definite fact. There is going to be a very big examination of this whole question. It is entirely wrong to have many thousands of people not paying their due contribution.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  Hear, hear.

Mr. Kyne: Information on Thomas Anthony Kyne  Zoom on Thomas Anthony Kyne  I agree with that. I agree with your going to the dealers to get information, but I do not agree with you fooling the people.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  There are two countries where the television dealers assist in the collection of licences. They are two very respectable democracies. One is Denmark, and I forget the other. I do not think it is such a horrifying suggestion, particularly in relation to the fact that garages assist in regard to motor car licences. It is going to be very seriously considered but I cannot say what the outcome will be.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  I think it is very horrifying and I think it will be inoperable. Perhaps it does not really horrify me that much, but it will not work.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I agree it will have to be very carefully considered if it is applied in order to make sure it does work.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  I do not think it should be applied, but, if it is, I do not think it will work.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  A number of Deputies referred again to the necessity for providing telephones where there is a waiting list. I have already dealt with that whole question. The waiting list is going to be reduced this year and the long term applicants' needs are being satisfied and telephones installed. I want to make it clear that, as far as I am concerned, the first and absolute priority is to ensure that the [1393] present service, which has grown so rapidly, is a first-class service in relation to the efficiency with which calls can be made, and the second priority is to continue with the installation of telephones and the improvement of the service in general.

A number of Deputies spoke of the very heavy charges, particularly in rural districts, for telephone installations and the advance charge now required. I am looking into this as far as possible. Deputies will appreciate that the capital cost of the installation of a long-distance telephone is very heavy. I am looking into it, but I cannot say what the outcome will be. Many Deputies also referred to the higher rental charges which have been established. One of the reasons for this is inflation, and I hope the disadvantages of inflation have been learned by now.

I recall a recent instance of a Deputy referring to a particular applicant for a telephone who was setting up a factory. I do not think I need mention the name. He implied that the deposit required seemed to be rather excessive. In reply to the Deputy, I can say that the firm intended to be in daily telephone communication with a European country and the deposit asked for was entirely reasonable in the circumstances.

Deputy Tully referred to the fraudulent booking of trunk calls by quoting wrong originating telephone numbers. All I can say is we do all we can to take precautions to see that this does not take place. I do not intend to divulge any details of these precautions, but Deputies can be assured that we do everything we can to avoid people having calls added to their bills which are the result of others making use of their telephone numbers for the purpose of making calls.

A great number of Deputies spoke about the establishment of more and more kiosks. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to that very adequately. I must make it clear that there really must be priorities in regard to the national programme for communication development or any other development. If we establish kiosks that literally have to be subsidised and subsidised and still further subsidised, [1394] somebody else is going to suffer. Eventually, if we go on with that process, the taxpayer will be literally drowned with gross subsidies in order to provide services for everybody and at every conceivable opportunity. We are quite liberal in our kiosk policy. It is essential that a kiosk should pay. Our communications have grown so much in this country, with the number of private cars and telephone lines available, that our policy for kiosks is reasonable at present.

A number of Deputies spoke about the need for telephone kiosks in connection with the tourist campaign. I agree with them, but, there again, there are limits. If somebody really feels a kiosk is required in some particular area for only two months of the summer season, then I think the regional tourist organisation or the local authority, or a combination of the two, should help with a subsidy and the ordinary telephone user should not be asked to pay a subsidy in that connection.

A number of Deputies referred to the western telephone service. If they read the statement made in connection with the telephone service, they will find an improved service, for example, the Athlone-Ballina cable. Other circuits are being established throughout the West and the telephone service there is steadily improving.

Deputy Harte suggested that trunk telephone calls should be routed through Belfast and not through Dublin. This has been suggested but the British Post Office, apparently, contrary to what Deputy Harte thinks, have no circuits to spare and they could not undertake to handle the extra traffic of which he spoke.

Deputy Tully referred to overhead wiring versus underground cabling. Of course, there again, the cost of underground cabling in a great many cases would be prohibitive and only as the number of circuits increases can the utilisation of underground cabling become a practical proposition. As a matter of fact, the Department is providing an increasing proportion of underground cabling as the circuits develop in general and I would hope that in future we will be able to reduce [1395] the number of occasions in which overhead wiring in suburban areas is inevitable. I think it is true to say that in new housing estates most of the cabling is placed underground as the duct is provided at the building stage but, unless ducts have also been provided into the houses, the lead-in wires to subscribers' telephones must, in the interests of economy, be provided by means of overhead wires. We have been experimenting with the provision of underground lead-ins to houses in some new private housing estates, where we think telephone density would be high. This experiment has been working quite satisfactorily and I think it is true to say that these arrangements for underground lead-ins to houses are likely to be introduced in the majority of new private housing estates.

Deputy Treacy referred to the reinstatement of roads and footpaths opened in the course of cabling works. The work of reinstating roads and footpaths opened by my Department in the course of cabling works is carried out in almost all cases, not by the Post Office, but by the local authority. The Department temporarily fills in the ground that has been disturbed and serves a reinstatement order on the local council or corporation and the corporation carry out the final restoration of the surface as soon as practicable.

A telephone weather service for the Dublin area was opened on 23rd March, 1967. Forecasts supplied by the Meteorological Office are recorded at the Dublin exchange where special equipment has been installed for the transmission of the bulletins by telephone. Callers may obtain the information by dialling 1199.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  I did not catch the number.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  The number is 1199. Forecasting relates to the next six hours and covers the land area within 20 miles of Dublin and a few miles of the adjacent coastal waters. The service, I am glad to say, has proved very popular. Approximately 132,000 calls were made to the service in the [1396] first five weeks of its operation. I hope that the good lady whose pleasant voice is recorded and is heard by so many people will have some better news to give us than was possible in the past week.

Deputy Lindsay referred to certain aspects of the telephone service. I should tell Deputy Lindsay that we are experiencing difficulties with Mayo County Council about wayleaves required for new poles. This has caused serious delay to certain installations including, perhaps, the one Deputy Lindsay has in mind. If the Deputy will give me particulars of the case to which he referred, I will be glad to look it up. We have ceased the practice of asking for advance payment before looking for any necessary wayleaves. We are returning payments in delayed cases which appear unlikely to be settled quickly. I quite sympathise with the Deputy when he suggested that people should not be asked to pay a very large sum in advance over a long period and then not be supplied with a telephone. That is the answer to what he said.

Deputy Gallagher referred to the necessity of ensuring that the telephone administration in general is as efficient as possible. I hope Deputies read everything I said in the course of the Estimate speech, that my predecessor established an investigation by a consultant into certain aspects of telephone administration. That examination is continuing. I think it is true to say that any efficient organisation periodically has its whole structure examined from within and from without in order to ensure that the most modern practices are being applied, that the administration is geared to face very much higher turnover and a great expansion. I wish to assure Deputy Gallagher and other Members of the House that the telephone administration has been through an explosive period of expansion and that all these matters are being examined into. He referred to the position of the telephone service as a Civil Service organisation. We are examining the question of whether under future circumstances a very large commercial business with, admittedly, very valuable social service responsibilities, is best [1397] run in its present form or whether there could be changes in the form of administration. I think it is a convenient time to do it because we have come, as I said, to a period when the service has grown very, very greatly and when this kind of examination may be made with a view to thinking of the future.

I should also make it clear that because of the fact that at all times capital has not been fully available for everything in this country and there are periods of particular credit squeeze, no administration, either run entirely by the Civil Service or by a State company, can proceed on the most efficient lines if it is unable to plan capitalwise for at least five or six years ahead and even to have a certain general programme planned tentatively for ten years ahead.

As some Deputies may know, it can take as much as two years to deliver equipment when it has been finally ordered, particularly complicated exchange equipment, and it is true to say that the telephone administration has not had the benefit of an absolutely continuous five-year programme in the sense of being absolutely assured that, on the basis of an increase of a given number of telephone installations per year, capital would be available and, in making certain assumptions about the growth of the service, that capital would be available.

As I have already indicated, in the case of the ESB, where the problem is rather different and where it is absolutely essential to link demand with supply, at no time has any question of shortage of capital prevented the ESB from going on a continuous five-year programme basis. The Report on Full Employment did suggest that the telephone service is a very vital factor indeed in our future economic progress and I hope to be able to establish the idea that there must be, at this stage of our existance, proper programming of telephone development. That in itself will help the officers of the Department to ensure that progress is made and on the most efficient basis. In line with any examination which we make into the [1398] character of the telephone administration, there must be concomitantly with that a plan for programming an expansion on a definite basis. I think it is only fair to the officers of the Department to say that.

It is true that very large sums of money have been voted by the House year after year but what I should like to see would be a programme based on a given anticipated expansion of the service, with everything settled and agreed to in advance as far as it can be under our law.

I think I have dealt at considerable length with all the observations made, not already very ably dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary. I should like once more to thank the Members of the House for their very constructive approach to this debate and for the very pleasant observations they had to make both on the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and on the general organisation of Radio Telefís Éireann.

Vote put and agreed to.


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